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In an article about the evil eye superstition, an illustration of a mosaic evil eye.
Illustration by Carmel Ada, American Academy of Art

Dive into the worldwide concept of the elusive, envious glare.

Superstition has been a part of many cultures and religious communities for thousands of years. For one, the act of knocking on wood to acquire immunity from a jinx spread throughout Europe. Additionally, the number 13 is considered bad luck in some Christian cultures and in turn, Friday the 13th has become a date known to carry misfortune. The evil eye is a concept that is prevalent in many different cultures today, including Turkish, Jewish, Greek, Arab, Mexican and Italian cultures.

The evil eye is a curse believed to be brought upon by the gaze of someone who is envious of the person supposedly on the receiving end of the evil eye. The curse is also thought to be the result of someone generally wishing misfortune on another person. The most popular and well-known talisman used by many cultures is a blue and white glass amulet that resembles an eye. It, along with other amulets, is used to block any curses people believe may come their way.

The earliest evidence of the use of amulets to ward off envy from the evil eye can be traced back to Tell Brak in ancient Mesopotamia, known today as modern-day Syria. There is also evidence of evil eye amulets being used in Greek classical antiquity, as well. Greek philosophers, namely Plutarch, are said to have referenced the function of the evil eye and methods of protection from it in their work. Today, many different cultures still believe in the evil eye and participate in various practices to protect themselves from it.

Islamic Culture

Many Muslims believe that physical harm and misfortune can happen to a person if they are looked at with jealously, even if the person looking does not intend to cause harm. Just the possibility that someone may feel jealous of someone else, whether consciously or subconsciously, is enough to curse the other person. Muslims will praise God by saying “Masha’Allah” (“God has willed it”) about various blessings and things of beauty to avoid being affected by the evil eye. Chapter 113 in the Quran says, “I seek refuge in the Lord… from the evil of an envier when they envy.” While associating objects with God’s power is usually considered to be prohibited in the Islamic tradition, many Muslims still use talismans to ward off the evil eye, including the eye amulet known as the hamsa, or the Hand of Fatima.

Jewish Culture

Similar to Muslims, it is believed by followers of Judaism that harm can be done to a person due to the mere gaze of another person or even a supernatural being. Some rabbis suggest that many negative events narrated in the Torah were the result of the evil eye. For instance, it is said by some that in the story of Hagar and Sarah, Sarah cast the evil eye on Hagar and caused her to miscarry before becoming pregnant with Ishmael. Like Muslims who believe in the evil eye, followers of Judaism who also believe in the evil eye use the hamsa to protect themselves.

Greece

The evil eye is known as “mati” in Greek culture. Like Muslims and Jewish people, Greeks who believe in the evil eye say that it is caused by another person’s look or gaze, albeit one that is usually laced with spite or bitterness. Many Greeks believe that something as simple as admiring a newborn baby can trigger the negative effects of the evil eye, so some will spit on the ground after complimenting a baby to prevent the baby from being affected. Many parents will also pin the blue and white eye amulet to the baby’s clothes. Other practices used by Greeks to avoid the evil eye include adding bits of blue to clothing, wearing eye charms as jewelry and hanging large glass eye amulets or garlic on their walls. In this culture, it is thought that women and children are particularly vulnerable to the evil eye. The physical effects include dizziness, headaches and a general stroke of bad luck for a short period of time.

Turkey

Turkish people also believe that the evil eye is a spiteful glare and its negative effects can be caused by jealousy and a belief that the person receiving the evil eye does not deserve the blessings they possess. In Turkish culture, the most extreme case of an evil eye can cause death to the person receiving it. It is believed that the evil eye can also come from supernatural forces. Turkish people also use the blue and white glass eye amulet, calling it a “nazar.” They believe that the amulet’s only purpose is to repel harm and is not meant to bring good luck to the person wearing it or using it. While it is worn by humans, it is also hung on the necks of pets to protect them. It is believed that the amulet cracking and chipping over time is evidence that the amulet is working hard to protect the person wearing it.

Mexico

The evil eye in Mexican culture is referred to as “el mal de ojo” and its effects are believed to cause illness to the recipient. Like the other cultures previously mentioned, the evil eye can occur whether or not the person giving it is aware of it. In some parts of Mayan culture in southern Mexico, it is believed that children and babies are most susceptible to the evil eye due to the fact that they are too young to resist it. A common belief is that a drunk person can pass the evil eye onto a child or baby just by passing by them. In this region, a red string tied around the wrist of a baby or young child is a common way to avoid being negatively affected by the evil eye. The baby or child should keep wearing the string until they are old enough to speak to reap the full benefits of the protective amulet. The reason this popular amulet is red and not blue like other cultures is because the color red is thought to be forceful and alluring, therefore more effective at thwarting negative energy.

Italy

The “malocchio” is the Italian version of the evil eye. Many Italians believe that the stare of a jealous person can cause misfortune to the person being looked at. Because of this, people will typically avoid speaking of accomplishments or blessings until they are set in stone. If someone has a stroke of bad luck, it’s believed to be due to the evil eye. Diagnosing the evil eye in Italian culture involves combining water and droplets of oil — if the water and oil mix, it is confirmed that the person has been cursed by the evil eye. To protect themselves from the evil eye, Italians may use red amulets shaped like horns. Some will wear stone pendants as jewelry to fight off bad energy.

These are just a few examples of how prevalent the evil eye is in many cultures and how the superstition is dealt with.

Writer Profile

Saba Bazzi

Wayne State University
English

Saba is a student and writer who is fueled by coffee and a desire for truth. She navigates the world with a sense of openness and values the power of conversation and written word.

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